GREEN BAY—Packers rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gives a pretty simple explanation for the difference in his game between his NFL debut and now.
“Being more aggressive,” Clinton-Dix said. “Coming up and making tackles, and just playing more physical than I did in the first game.”
That aggressiveness began to get ingrained under Nick Saban at Alabama, and it’s constantly reinforced by his Green Bay position coach, Darren Perry. Clinton-Dix said every day he sees the phrase “being physical” written three times on the board in the safeties’ meeting room.
The first-round draft pick has taken that to heart and is developing into one of the surest tacklers on the Packers defense. His steady progress earned him his first pro start last week against Carolina, and he played all the defensive snaps for the first time.
His role on Sunday could grow in prominence given veteran safety Morgan Burnett’s questionable status. Burnett has a calf injury, and if he can’t play, Clinton-Dix and second-year pro Micah Hyde will likely start alongside one another.
“I felt good to finally get my first start in,” Clinton-Dix said of the Panthers game, during which he led the defense in tackles for the second straight week with nine. “I felt comfortable back there with all the checks and all the calls. I can still get better each week. I missed a tackle unfortunately.”
That missed tackle didn’t generate nearly the scrutiny, obviously, as his whiff in the open field in Week 1 against Seattle receiver Ricardo Lockette, who eventually waltzed into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
Clinton-Dix did his best to forget about it quickly but learn his lesson – there can be no hesitation at this level. That play has not represented at all the tackler he’s become.
“If Coach (Perry) sees us out there giving effort, 100 percent effort, whether we miss a tackle or make it, he can live with that,” Clinton-Dix said. “Once he sees us coming up short or kind of hesitating on making the tackle, then he has a problem. He doesn’t like that at all.
“‘DP’ was really upset with me after that game. I was upset with myself. He expects a lot out of me.”
The Packers will need a lot out of the safety position against the Saints, with or without Burnett. Either Clinton-Dix or Hyde could find himself matched up against dynamic tight end Jimmy Graham at times on Sunday night.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Sean Richardson also has earned the opportunity to play more after making an impact in short-yardage defense against the Panthers.
“When his time is called, that guy is going to go in and make plays regardless, whether it’s the fourth quarter, first quarter or third-and-inches,” Clinton-Dix said of Richardson. “He’s going to give max effort every time, and that’s what I love about him.”
The Packers also will be counting on their developing depth on the defensive line, as Datone Jones (ankle) will miss his third straight game. Jones tried to practice in full pads on Thursday but it didn’t go as well as hoped and he’s been ruled out.
Led by third-year pro Mike Daniels and free-agent acquisition Letroy Guion, the line has received contributions across the board in recent weeks, as young players Josh Boyd, Mike Pennel and Luther Robinson have taken their share of snaps.
“We’ve done a good job with the rotation so guys have been fresh,” McCarthy said. “I feel very confident in what we’ve been able to do.”
The vocal leader of the group, Daniels, is confident in what it’s going to do, too.
“We’re a good front. We’re continuing to build,” Daniels said. “None of us have gotten remotely close to playing our best football yet. That’s the best part about it.”
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - OCT. 24